Syria to join global chemical weapons ban
The United Nations says it received Syria's application to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS - Syria applied on Thursday to sign up to the global ban on chemical weapons, as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed a Russian plan under which Damascus would give up its arsenal of poison gas.
The United Nations (UN) said it received Syria's application to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, shortly after President Bashar al-Assad promised to deliver it within days. Washington immediately warned Syria against stalling tactics to avoid military strikes.
As he began talks in Geneva with Lavrov, Kerry said force might still be needed against Syria if diplomacy over Assad's chemical weapons stockpile fails.
"President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad's capacity to deliver these weapons," Kerry said.
"Expectations are high. They are high for the US perhaps even more sides for Russia to deliver on the promise of this moment. This is not a game and I said that to my friend Sergei when we talked about it initially," Kerry said.
"It has to be real. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be verifiable. It has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion, and finally there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place."
Obama, whose attention has been consumed by Syria since he threatened military strikes to punish Assad's government for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of people in Damascus suburbs two weeks ago, said he was now turning to domestic priorities while backing Kerry's efforts.
This week's eleventh-hour Russian initiative interrupted a Western march to war, persuading Obama to put strikes on hold.
Syria, which denies it was behind that attack, has agreed to Moscow's proposal that it give up its chemical weapons stocks, averting what would have been the first direct Western intervention in a war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
"In the next couple of days, Syria will send a petition to the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," Assad said in an interview on Russian TV.
"The petition will contain technical documents required to sign the agreement. After that, work will start that will lead to the signing of the convention prohibiting chemical weapons."
Soon after the interview was broadcast, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters: "In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria that is being translated, which is to be an accession document concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention."
A US official, briefing the media on condition of anonymity ahead of Kerry's talks with Lavrov, said the aim was "to see if there's reality here, or not" in the Russian proposal. Kerry and a contingent of experts plan to hold at least two days of talks with the Russians.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, long cast as a villain by Western leaders for supplying Assad with arms and blocking Security Council efforts to dislodge him, took his case to the American public, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
Putin argued that intervention against Assad would further the aims of al Qaeda fighters among the Syrian leader's enemies.
US officials said they hoped Kerry and Lavrov could agree on a blueprint with the main points to be adopted in a U.N. Security Council resolution. An initial French draft calls for an ultimatum to Assad's government to give up its chemical arsenal or face punitive measures.